New African-American Exhibit at the State Capitol

In 1868, something very important happened in Arkansas history. Six African-American legislators took office, the first to do so. A new exhibit, Arkansas’s African American Legislators, 1868-1893, opened early this week in the Arkansas State Capitol. Created by the Black History Commission of Arkansas and the Arkansas History Commission, it honors the African Americans who were a part of Arkansas’s legislature during the 1860s and early 1870s. It won’t be on display for long; it runs through the end of February, which is Black History Month.

According to the Arkansas History Commission, African Americans participated in Arkansas politics for the first time following the Civil War. The state adopted a new constitution in 1868 which provided the right to vote and hold public office for black males.

Between 1868 and 1893, there were 85 African Americans known to have served in the General Assembly. They came from varied backgrounds, including lawyers, merchants, ministers, educators, farmers, and other professions. The majority served in the House with nine in the Senate. Election laws passed in 1891 and new poll tax regulations in 1893 ended the election of African Americans to the legislature. They did not serve again in the General Assembly until 1973.

The exhibit features photographs which have survived for 45 of the African Americans who served during the 19th century. Forty-three of the photos belong to the Arkansas History Commission. The photos are also viewable online.  The Arkansas State Capitol offers free tours between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Call 501-682-5080 to schedule a guided tour.

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